Going small can get the Suns back into series against Timberwolves

The Phoenix Suns need to try new methods to get back into their playoff series versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, and going small may be it.
Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One
Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves - Game One / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages

If there was any doubt that the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season, the Phoenix Suns' first two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves served as a stark reminder of that fact. After being dominated in the regular season matchup, the T-Wolves have turned the tables to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

It’s impossible to single out just one factor for that flip in dominance. 

The abysmal 1:1 assist to turnover ratio certainly jumps off the page, and has also fueled a comical disparity in points off turnovers between the teams. The T-Wolves have also scored nearly double the amount of second chance points.

The Suns struggling in those categories is not entirely unexpected given that those were clear flaws throughout the regular season, but this is the most extreme version of those weaknesses. It’s possible that as the series swings back to Phoenix those extremes could regress towards the mean, making those deficiencies more manageable to overcome.

Unfortunately, by losing both games in Minnesota, the Suns lost the luxury to stick with the status quo and hope something changes without making any adjustments.

Further complicating matters is the up-in-the-air status of Grayson Allen, who has turned the same ankle in both games and might not be available as this series progresses. The Suns can't play their preferred style of ball when one of their core members is compromised or unavailable.

Finally, the extra leeway given to defenders in the postseason has turned an already elite Minnesota defense into a juggernaut.

In their regular season matchups, 50.7 percent of Phoenix’s shots were either open or wide open. That number has dropped to 44.4 percent in the first two games of this series. Those numbers aren't going to get any better for the Suns without them adjusting to the defense they're seeing.

If thats the case, and the offense is similarly stuck in the mud in the early going of Game 3, Frank Vogel would have to at least consider the possibility of pulling Jusuf Nurkić and going small to try and counter Minnesota’s defense. 

Despite this series looking tailor-made for Nurk’s talents, the big man has struggled mightily in it, in just about every aspect of the game. His defense has been dreadful and he's done little to stop the Wolves from feasting on the glass.

Nurkić’s shortcomings on offense have been even more disastrous though. With him planted firmly in the paint at all times, Rudy Gobert has been able to do what he does best, and act almost solely as a rim protector.

The wing defenders can be overly aggressive when guarding the Suns perimeter players because they know that Gobert will be there to stop anybody that gets through to him.

Subbing Eric Gordon or Royce O’Neale in for Nurk would pull Gobert out to the three-point line and open up the paint and mid range for the Suns’ stars. It could also help them lower their turnover numbers since they’d have an additional ball handler out on the floor, something they desperately need against the ball pressure of Minnesota. 

Another reason Nurkić has been so ineffective in these two games is that his playmaking has been almost completely nullified. Standing around and waiting for a stationary center to orchestrate the offense is playing directly into Minnesota's hands.

Spacing out the offense and increasing ball movement between players that can all attack off the dribble should make the Wolves defenders work much harder at the very least.

Playing smaller will definitely have its pitfalls against a massive team like Minnesota, but some of those pitfalls can be mitigated to an extent. While going small can expose you to unfavorable one-on-one matchups in the post, the Wolves don’t want to play through Gobert on offense. If they do, it's a win for the defense.

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The Suns would also become even more susceptible to offensive rebounds, but that’s as much as a team effort as it is a singular matchup. The Suns definitely wouldn’t be losing much, if anything, in regards to their own offensive rebounding efforts since they’ve been so poor already.

The Suns are going to have to accept that issues like the rebounding aren't going to be fixed in this series. But going smaller gives them the best chance to fix some of the others that they are dealing with. Right now, they're losing the math battle before the game even begins. Swinging one or two of these stats back into their favor will even the playing field.